CNN Omits Critical Details of Why Man Was Shot by Police

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Cross posted to the MRC's NewsBusters blog

Even though resisting arrest is usually a key factor in deadly police shooting cases, CNN's New Day omitted that critical detail on Tuesday as the show highlighted a police shooting case from 2004 in which a 21-year-old was killed by members of the same police department involved in a more current case.

As the show gave attention to the recent case of Jacob Blake -- an allegedly unarmed black man who was shot and injured by police in Kenosha, Wisconsin -- co-host Alisyn Camerota interviewed a police violence activist, Michael Bell Sr., whose was killed by police in the same city 16 years go.

After noting that Bell was white, Camerota vaguely described the incident that led to Michael Bell Jr.'s death as being a "routine traffic stop that then escalated." Bell Sr. soon recounted that his son was shot in front of his mother and sister after two of the cops made what sounded likely a reckless, clumsy mistake:

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BELL: About 30 percent of all police deaths are labeled as mistake of fact or use of force errors. In my own son's death, a police officer hooked his gun on a car mirror and mistakened it as my son grabbing his weapon, and another officer faced his gun directly to my son's temple and killed him right in front of his mother and sister.

At one point, he described the city as "ground zero for horrific police shootings."

By the time the segment concluded, the officers involved in the Bell case sound like keystone cops who thought Bell had grabbed one of their guns simply because the cop had clumsily gotten the gun caught on a mirror outside the car for no reason.

In spite of the fact that no more details of the chaotic struggle were divulged in the segment, Camerota followed up:

CAMEROTA: It's so shocking. I mean, really, the details of your son's death are so gut-wrenching. And know that you say that the police decided that they were not at fault, but then you hired your own private investigator and got more of the real story.

Recollections of the case from other sources recall that the 21-year-old was driving while intoxicated, as evidenced by the autopsy, and resisted arrest, leading to a struggle during which the mistake over the gun was allegedly made. 

Dashcam video of the traffic stop shows Bell exiting his vehicle and walking erratically while refusing police instructions to return to his car. He is taken off screen but can be heard arguing with police officers.

A couple of years ago on January 30, 2018, CBS This Morning ran a segment on the case in which they actually informed their viewers of the struggle that resulted in Bell's death which was reenacted by police officers.

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The episode of CNN's New Day was sponsored by Big Lots and USAA. Their contact information is linked.

Below is a transcript of the relevant portion of the Tuesday, August 25, New Day on CNN:

8:29 a.m. Eastern

ALISYN CAMEROTA: Two Kenosha police officers are on administrative leave this morning, but officials have still not given an explanation for what led them to shoot Jacob Blake multiple times in the back, at close range, in front of his three young children. Blake's father tells CNN that his son has undergone multiple surgeries as of this morning. He is expected to survive. Overnight, buildings were set on fire in Kenosha because of the anger from protesters over this shooting.

Joining us now is Michael Bell. His son, Michael Jr., was shot and killed by Kenosha police in 2004. … It's interesting looking at both of these cases. Your son was 21 years old -- he's a white young man. Jacob Blake is 29 -- he's black -- but you see parallels. Describe those to us.

MICHAEL BELL SR., FATHER OF POLICE SHOOTING VICTIM: There are a lot of parallels. Essentially, Jacob's family watched his shooting, and my own son was killed in front of his mother and sister. There are some distinctions, though. Back in 2004 when my son was killed, the police department -- the coworkers of the officers involved -- found the officers justified within just two days. They investigated themselves. And we passed a law that changed departments investigating themselves. Today, Jacob Blake's family has the luxury of having an outside agency do that. And so welcome to ground zero for horrific police shootings here in Kenosha. This is exactly what we've lived through for 16 years.

CAMEROTA: Gosh, we're so sorry for your loss, and has anything changed in those 16 years? Has the action that you took after your son's death -- I mean, as I understand it, that was a, you know, so-called routine traffic stop that then escalated, and so was there any new training? Had anything changed in the Kenosha Police Department since then?

[Bell recalls some of his efforts against police departments investigating their co-workers]

BELL: … About 30 percent of all police deaths are labeled as mistake of fact or use of force errors. In my own son's death, a police officer hooked his gun on a car mirror and mistakened it as my son grabbing his weapon, and another officer faced his gun directly to my son's temple and killed him right in front of his mother and sister.

So we can go back to those types of cases and we can figure out what went wrong -- was it a human condition? Was it communications? And we can try to say: What can we do to prevent these types of deaths from happening? And this legislation that's going to be introduced this week will be a first in its nation type.

CAMEROTA: It's so shocking. I mean, really, the details of your son's death are so gut-wrenching. And know that you say that the police decided that they were not at fault, but then you hired your own private investigator and got more of the real story.

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